a closeup of hemp leaves with a water droplet

Hemp (cannabis) leaves.

CBD: It (Mostly) Lives up to the Hype

CBD is the hottest thing on our shelves right now.  The hottest thing I’ve ever seen in the world of herbal products.  Everybody and their cousin (and sometimes their cousin’s dog) wants some.  People are coming in for it in droves, because they’ve heard it’s a miracle drug: that it relieves pain and inflammation, arthritis and swelling; treats anxiety, ADHD, and sleeplessness; solves the riddles of autism and schizophrenia; reduces seizures and migraines; fixes everything from irritable bowel syndrome, to bruxism (teeth grinding), to addiction and the withdrawal from addictive drugs; and that it prevents, treats and even cures cancer.

Obviously, not all of that is true… but a lot actually is.  So, let’s clear things up, separate truth from fiction, and get to the bottom of this exciting herbal ingredient.  (Spoiler: CBD for anxiety and pain is true; cancer not so much…)

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a plant compound that can induce a feeling of restful calm, ease pain, soothe inflammation, and more.  It is quick-acting, safe, and effective.

Where does it come from?

CBD can be derived from a number of different plants, but by far the richest and most common source is the cannabis (hemp) plant.

Cannabis, of course, is the same family of plant that gives us marijuana.  Which has led to plenty of enthusiasm, some fear, a lot of confusion, and plenty of winkwink marketing hype.

So, is CBD the same as marijuana?

CBD comes from the same plant family as marijuana, but that doesn’t make it marijuana.

To understand why, we need to look at cannabis in general.  There are literally hundreds of strains of cannabis.  Some are bred to be high in fiber.  We grow these to make cloth (canvas cloth; guess how it got its name) or paper.  Others are bred to yield heavy, oil-rich seeds.  We grow these to produce healthy hemp oil for cooking, nutrition, and even high-quality artist’s paint.  Still others are bred to be rich in a compound called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  THC is the compound in marijuana that gets a person intoxicated or “high.”  So these are your traditional marijuana strains.  And finally, there are strains bred to be rich in CBD.

When you’re making a CBD extract, you start with a high-CBD, low-THC strain of cannabis, and then you extract it to concentrate the CBD and remove the THC. 

Then does CBD get you high?

CBD doesn’t get you high.  At all.

In fact, when CBD was first discovered and isolated in the 1940s, scientists detected so little effect on mental and emotional state, they concluded it didn’t do anything it all.  We now understand that CBD can improve how we feel – sometimes profoundly.  It can definitely help if you’re feeling wound up, nervous or panicked.  In other words, it can bring you back from the brink to a healthy baseline.  But a healthy baseline is where it stops.  CBD won’t keep making you feel better and better to the point of euphoria.

So, is there any connection between CBD and THC?

There’s actually a bit of synergy between THC and CBD.  CBD moderates some of THC’s side effects – the occasional paranoia, memory loss, and dissociation.  And THC can reinforce some of the positive effects of CBD, in particular around pain management.

That being said, Debra’s doesn’t carry THC (marijuana) products.  So for us at least, it’s a moot point.

Will CBD make me fail a drug test?

No!  Okay… maybe.  Here’s the deal: legally, non-marijuana CBD products can contain up to 0.3% naturally occurring THC.  (To put 0.3% in perspective, fruit juice can contain up to 0.5% naturally occurring alcohol).  That’s not enough to get anyone high, or to even be noticeable.  And at reasonable doses, with occasional use, that 0.3% is not enough to fail anyone’s drug test.  However, regular use at higher doses, with more sensitive drug tests, could in theory be a problem.

If that’s a serious concern for you, you can look for CBD products that guarantee not just less than 0.3% THC, but ones that guarantee no detectable THC.

Delivery Systems: liquids, capsules, cream, salves, gummies, even vape…

There are three delivery systems for CBD: oral (by the mouth), topical (via the skin), and vaporized (inhaled through the lungs).

Most people will use oral CBD, which works throughout the whole body.   There are plenty of oral delivery systems to choose from: capsules, liquid, gummy bears, and many, many etcs.            Despite claims to the contrary, I’ve never seen any solid evidence that any one works any better than any other.  Take your pick.

People do well with topical CBD when there’s pain, inflammation or spasm in one or more localized areas.  On your knuckles for painful swollen joints.  Over the bottoms of the feet for plantar fasciitis.  Over the lower abdomen for menstrual cramps.  Elbows, knees…

I have heard it claimed that some topical CBD gets into the bloodstream and works systemically.  So far, though, I haven’t seen that happen.

Vaporized CBD is the fastest acting, your best bet for situations that need to be addressed quickly.  Quickly, as in 15 seconds.  Think panic attacks, and breakthrough pain.  You administer vaporized CBD using one of those “smokeless cigarette” vape pen devices.

Honestly, we had to pause a bit before bringing vapes into our store.  On a gut level, there’s just something about holding a cigarette-looking device up to your lips and inhaling that doesn’t seem to jibe with our core mission as a “health food store.”  We finally got over our issues with vape, first of all because it’s smokeless (there’s no combustion, so none of the normal concerns about inhaled carcinogens).  But mostly because of how helpful the vape has been to two of our staff members.

“In my journey with panic attacks,” says Meg Stone, manager of our bodycare department, “I’ve come to usually sense when they’re coming on, and I know I only have a minute or so to react… if I can’t get myself out of the situation, it’s good to know I can use the CBD vape.  The vape has been instrumental, I can use it, calm myself back down, do my breathing exercises, do my behavioral type things, get myself back in my body, and stave it off.

“Vape is different [than oral CBD].  It gets into your system faster… I breathe it in, it’s in my system in a few seconds.  Versus when I take the tincture or a capsule, I can feel the leading edges of it an about a half-hour.  I still use oral CBD twice a day for my immune disorder pain.  But sometimes I’m really, really happy I have the vape pen.”

Types of CBD extract

Long story short, there are two major ways to compare CBD extracts: how potent they are, and how “full spectrum” they are.

Potency first.  This issue might seem fairly straightforward (more milligrams = a stronger product), but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.  There are a lot of companies that proudly proclaim doses of 20, 40, 80 mg or more in big letters on the front of their bottles – and then in the small print, you see that you’re actually getting 20, 40, or 80 mg of hemp extract.  This extract may be 99% CBD.  It may be 20% CBD.  You may not know how much CBD it is.  So, read the fine print – on CBD, and on everything else.  On our end, we are committed to only stocking CBD products with transparent labeling.

(It’s also worth noting whether the dose refers to a single serving, or the entire bottle).

The other issue is whether your CBD is “full spectrum” or an “isolate.”  When a CBD product is described as an isolate, it means (or should mean) that the plant extract is almost 100% CBD – and almost 0% everything else.  This is attractive to people with what I’ll call a “pharmaceutical mindset” – who feel most comfortable knowing that they’re getting one thing, and only one thing, and that thing is going to be exactly identical in every single batch.  Meanwhile, full-spectrum means (or should mean) that the extraction is performed in such a way that it preserves high levels of other valuable constituents from the plant.   This may be more attractive to people with more of an “herbal mindset,” who appreciate the synergy of nature, and feel that high-potency isolates are more like “drugs” than “herbs.”  Or who simply find that full spectrum extracts simply work better.

Do full spectrum extracts work better?  For the most part, yes.  There really are other compounds in the plant outside of CBD and THC that have value.  And there really is value in the synergy.  In other words, the whole is greater than the some of its parts.

Unfortunately, “full spectrum” and “isolate” both mean different things to different people.  Sometimes they’re marketing buzzwords that mean nothing at all.  I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few sales calls that have tried to push “full-spectrum isolates” or other such nonsense.  So it’s important to know what you’re actually getting.  Or (how do I put this?) purchase from a store that does the vetting for you…

A word about dosing.

I often recommend between 10 and 20 mg per dose, 1 to 3 doses a day.  So that’s anywhere between 10 and 60 mg a day.  But that’s just a rough ballpark.  And ballparking doses of CBD is like ballparking doses of coffee: what works for one person won’t be nearly enough for the other, and vice versa.  I’ve known people who feel fine on 5 or even 3 mg (which, to be honest, really isn’t enough for most people).  On the other hand, some people may find that only 50 or 100 mg per dose is where it starts to have the oomph they need.

The nice thing about CBD is, it works relatively quickly.  So you don’t need to spend weeks or months guessing at what’s right.  Try it.  See.  You’ll know quickly enough what’s working for you.

Next month:

So, what does CBD actually do?

See Part 2 HERE.  (should be up by mid-October)